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General Allotment Act, Act of Feb. 8, 1887 (24 Stat. 388, ch. 119, 25 USCA 331)

Relevant Provisions: 
Size of allotments; public domain allotments; trust land; descent and partition; trust funds; rights of way; citizenship; trust periods

Section 1: Authorizes the president to allot tribal lands to individual Indians in designated amounts on reservations created by treaty, act of Congress, or executive order.  If a treaty or agreement with a tribe was made earlier and provided for larger allotments to members of that tribe, the president is authorized to allot land according to the treaty or agreement.  If the lands are not suitable for farming but appropriate for grazing, the president is authorized to allot sections of land larger than the amounts specified in this section of the General Allotment Act.

Section 2: Provides that the Indian allottees themselves make their own selection of land as to accommodate those who had already made improvements or built upon a piece of land. Indian heads of families are authorized to select allotments for their children and Indian reservation agents are authorized to select land for orphans.  This section also authorizes the secretary of interior to direct agents to make allotment selections for individual Indians who fail to select land within four years of the president’s direction to allot the reservation.

Section 3: Stipulates that allotments shall be made by agents, regular and special. Allotments will be certified and certificates duplicated, so that one copy is held by the Indian office, and one copy in the General Land Office.

Section 4: Allows any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided, to secure an allotment upon public lands.

Section 5: Provides that after an Indian person is allotted land, the United States will hold the land “in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian” (or his heirs if the Indian landowner dies) for a period of 25 years. (Land held in trust by the United States government cannot be sold or in anyway alienated by the Indian landowner, since the United States government considers the underlying ownership of the land held by itself and not the tribe. After the period of trust ends, the Indian landowner is free to sell the land and is free from any encumbrance from the United States.) This section also authorizes the president to extend this period of trust wherever deemed appropriate.

This section states further that:

Any contract made that involves the land before the end of the trust period is null and void; after patents have been issued to Indians for their allotments, the laws of descent and partition of the State in which the allotments are located replace tribes’ inheritance laws and are applied to the allotment; and, if there is any land on the reservation that has not been allotted, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to negotiate with the tribe for the purchase of this surplus land by the United States. These purchases have to be ratified by Congress and will be sold to white settlers in tracts not exceeding 160 acres. Money that is earned by selling the land to white settlers is to be held in trust by the government for the sole use of tribes to whom the reservation belonged but subject to appropriation by Congress for the education and civilization of the Indians.


This section also states a hiring preference for Indian people in public service who have followed the provisions of the General Allotment Act and have become citizens of the United States.

Section 6: After allotments have been made, every member of the bands or tribes to whom allotments have been made are subject to laws of the state or territory in which they reside.  Every individual Indian who receives trust patents is bestowed with United States citizenship (This section was amended by the Burke Act in 1906).

Section 7: The secretary of the interior is authorized to prescribe rules and regulations for water rights on irrigated lands within the reservation.

Section 8: None of the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, Osage, Miamies, Peorias, Sacs and Foxes, in Indian Territory, nor any reservations of the Seneca Nation of New York, nor an executive order reservation in Nebraska, are subject to the provisions of the General Allotment Act.

Section 10: Nothing in the act is to be construed as affecting the right of Congress to grant right of way through lands granted to an Indian person or tribe, or condemn such lands to public uses, upon making just compensation.

Click here for full text in Charles J. Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, produced by Oklahoma State University Library